By Nelson Manneh
Fafa E. M’Bai, former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, has denied playing any role in the process of drafting decrees and creation of Commissions of Inquiries for the 1994 Junta.
He made the denial while testifying before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC).
M’Bai maintained that his role was to advise the government at the time, adding that he did not accept the decrees and spoke against them. He said this was why he did not last long. He said Decree number 11 targeted ambassadors, ministers, police and military officers as well as top civil servants who were living above their pay rate.
The witness said it was a good Decree and it was meant to ensure transparency and accountability. However, M’Bai said as attorney general at the time, he cannot deny the violations of citizens’ rights and if allowed, he would have made a statement on his responsibilities as attorney general and not on the enactment of the Decrees.
Lead Counsel Essa Faal told him that the said Decree has no protection for the people.
“The likes of Abou Deton, Badou Faye, Pa Chan, Ousainou Njie were targeted by the Junta,” Faal told him.
The witness in his responses said that was not the fate of the Decree.
Faal told the witness that the power to amend the Decrees was entrusted with the Attorney General as stated in Decree 14 of the AFPRC Decrees, which the witness admitted. In the Freezing of Assets of Persons, Faal said it was a deliberate and terrible law as the Decree empowered the Junta to impound people’s properties even without a judicial process. Decree 16, according to Faal, was the worst of all as it was the one dealing with Economic Crimes and Yahya Jammeh used it to hunt anyone he wanted.
Lawyer M’Bai agreed that it was a bad law, adding that Economic Crimes were mainly found in the civil service. He said the Decree made it worst as it did not follow due process. He agreed with Faal that it was a retrogressive step in terms of respecting the rights of people.
Section 4 of Decree 14, according to Faal, changed the 72hrs limitations of detaining people to 30 days which he (the witness) said was very bad.
“This law said if a person was found guilty of Economic as per the Decree, he/she is liable to pay certain amount of money and also imprisoned the person. This law was not only limited to theft, but also if an individual acted negligently either deliberately or not deliberately, he/she is still liable for such convictions,” he said.
M’Bai said the Army Forces Council came to power with an agenda and he chose not venture into any argument with them, but it was lawyers that were behind the Council because laws were implemented by the judiciary and not the drafters.
Moving in to Decree 17, it showed that several people like Momodou Gaye, Ousainou Njie, Badou Faye and those close to them got their assets frozen. “These were terrible laws?” ” said Faal. “Yea they were terrible laws,” said the witness.
Faal said the Decree was wide in nature as it did not limit itself to individuals, but those close to them as well. This Decree was written on the 23rd November 1994 when the witness was serving as AG and Minister of Justice. M’Bai said if he was defending a client, he would have succeeded in getting it struck out.
Decree 26, State Security, Detention of Armed and Police Personnel, Faal said was another Decree which violated citizens’ rights as it was also a retrogressive law. The last Decree which dealt with freezing of accounts was not limited to individuals’ accounts, but to those close to them, Faal said it was an example of using a hammer to kill a mosquito.
Mr. M’Bai said it was established that some of the Decrees were passed well before he became AG and they had also established an illegal government (Coup D’etat). He said as AG, he gave advice where his advice was sought and where his consent was not sought, he made his opinion known in the cabinet.
The witness said he had always been fighting for human rights and his advice on some of the bad Decrees was not respected, adding the Junta said their main reason for the overthrowing the PPP Government was to eradicate rampant corruption in the country.
Continuing his testimony on Tuesday 20th April 2021, before TRRC, M’Bai said the soldiers and the people at large wanted accountability which he said is an element of human rights. The witness said right to food, right to education, right to clean drinking water, right to infrastructure are fundamentals of human rights and they were ready to eliminate anyone who wanted to stop them from achieving their aim.
“I was halfway across the desert, it was either to go on or resist,” said the Veteran lawyer.
On the issue of former senior officers being loaded in trucks and humiliated around town, the witness said he had already made a point on that and sound prejudicial as he had already explained.
“Was November 11 discussed at the Council?” asked Faal. “No, anytime we have a meeting with them, the Council would be in the office of the Chairman for hours and we will be sitting waiting for them,” he responded.
“I took them as my children and they used to call me uncle Human Rights in cabinet and Council. I am satisfied with my consent and the great job I did for my country.
“In spite of all that I lost my job, got arrested and also illegally detained and I would make the necessary application to this Commission for consideration for reparations,” he said.
He said in 2006, Landing 13 Badjie visited his Chambers and advised him to write to the former president to give him back his property at 45 Kairaba Avenue and the Attorney General at the time, Sheik Tijan Hydara, also told him to do the same which he did.
He said apart from the house, nothing else was returned to him by the Jammeh regime. He said a Nigerian Judge who was housed at his property did not pay water bills which amounted to D30, 000. He said it took him time and a lot of money to renovate the house.
On the issue of Tax
The witness said a Tax Commission was established in 2012 and its mandate was to look at tax evasion from 1999- 2012 which found him wanting for tax evasion in the sums of over D1 million, but the Court of Appeal maintained that he should not pay for it.
“The Court of Appeal, therefore, put aside the findings of the Commission on tax evasion and it was only my appeal that was considered among lawyers that were found wanting and GRA returned tax overpayment of D65, 000 to me,” he said.
Reading from his notes, the witness disclosed that when Sheikh Tijan Hydara was removed as Attorney General, Amadou Samba called him on the phone telling him that the former President had offered him the position of AG again, but he refused.